Justin Steele has become arguably the best development of the 2022 Cubs season. After tossing six shutout innings on Sunday afternoon, the 27-year-old lefty lowered his season ERA to 3.25 with a 3.10 FIP, 1.35 WHIP and 120 strikeouts in 113 2/3 innings. He sports a 0.86 ERA since the All-Star break.
What makes his recent performance even more impressive is the fact that he has eclipsed the 100-inning mark for the first time in his professional career. His previous career-high in innings was 98 2/3 in 2017 with High-A Myrtle Beach. To set a new high-water mark in innings and seemingly getting stronger speaks volumes about the work he’s turned in this year. With all of that said, do not be surprised to see his workload come down as things start winding down.
Could the Cubs limit Justin Steele’s innings?
It is not uncommon for starting pitchers in Steele’s position, ones in their first full season as an MLB starter, to be kept on a shorter leash innings-wise. That’s especially true for ones playing on a team that is not in a pennant race and are thinking big picture. One might remember when Jeff Samardzija was shut down for the final weeks of the 2012 season.
This certainly does not mean Steele should just be shut down within a week or so. If the Cubs do indeed limit him, my guess is that it would happen in September. Right now there is no known hard number (if such a number even currently exists) of innings for him to hit this season but it is hard to imagine the Cubs not wanting to get a few more starts out of him.
One thing worth mentioning is the fact that Steele did not get to start the seventh while at 89 pitches on Sunday. While it could have been an in-game strategy by Ross not wanting Steele to face another batter and then have to go to the pen, it could be assumed that the decision was made easier to not push anything. As frustrating as it was, not pushing it might be the best strategy going forward. Let him pitch his next few starts but do not force 100+ pitches at this point. The real takeaway from these games is how the future pieces look and stay in good shape.
As the season winds down, there will likely be a collection of different guys making starts for the Cubs. We will probably see Caleb Kilian get a little more action, with other prospect arms like Hayden Wesneski possibly getting some looks. This will make filling the gaps of possible Steele and Keegan Thompson shutdowns easier.